The ancient Carian city of Kaunos lies here with its ruins dating back to the 3rd Century BC. Thought to have been named after Caunus the grandson of Meander the river god. The Dalyan channel, through which water circulates between the Mediterranean and Koycegiz Lake, winds its way down past the ancient rock tombs to the sea, via a small network of lakes and waterways, through the rustling reed beds rising between 3-5m in height. With its mixture of fresh and salt water, these wetlands are now home to a vast number of fish and other water life, as well many species of birds which feed on them such as the sparrow hawk, crane, kingfisher and jay. The stork is also native to this area migrating here at the end of March to nest until the end of August.
According to the historian Herodotus, the region was first settled by the Cretans in about 2000 BC, then later by the Carians and Greeks. The citizens of Caunos believed themselves to be descendants of immigrants from Crete, but spoke with a language resembling Carian. Caunos was known to have been one of the leading cities of Caria and was subsequently ruled by many over the centuries, including Rhodians, Greeks, Persians and Romans.
In ancient times Caunos was an important seaport supporting trade in fish, salt, fruit and slaves. Resin and pitch from the pine forests of this region were collected and used for shipbuilding and repairing in the harbour of Caunos. Despite this apparent prosperity, Caunos was always considered to be an unhealthy city. The city was famed for its figs and the fruit was erroneously deemed responsible for the citizens’ disease. The marshland, which had built up over the centuries by the silting of the river, was the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes and as a result the population suffered in fact from malaria. By 1948 malaria had been eradicated, but mosquitoes are still prevalent in Dalyan today.
To visit the tombs you can pay to be rowed across the river from the jetty on Yali Sokak and it is a twenty five minute walk to the site. The theatre is very well preserved and parts of an acropolis, baths and basilica and defensive walls are nearby.
If you dine on the river at night the tombs are lit up and make the most dramatic backdrop and setting.
The best time to visit Caunos is late afternoon, when there are fewer visitors and a more evocative atmosphere.
The ancient poet, Strabo, mentioned in his writing that “the population of Caunos moved around very slowly and had a greenish hue to their skin”.
Caunos and the principal Lycian City of Xanthos were the only two to resist when Harpagus attempted to conquer the region in the 6th Century BC. When Caunos eventually did fall under the Persian invasion, the desperate citizens gathered their families and retreated into the Acropolis where they made a funeral pyre with all their belongings, their men fighting to the death.
The Acropolis’ mountain is approximately 150m high and can be seen from far away. The town walls and towers on the northern slope date from the Middle Ages, but the origin of the ruins at the summit date far back into antiquity, circa 300 BC. The theatre, situated close by, has 34 tiers providing seating for about 5,000 people. Stone facing supports the northern part of the theatre, while the southern end is carved into the rocks. To the north of the theatre, a church and a large bath house date from Roman times; an adjacent building was either a temple or a library. Below, evidence of the ancient harbour can be seen with its Agora, reflecting the various civilisations that settled here — Hittite, Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine.
The ancient harbour, now Sülüklü Göl (Lake of the Leeches), is at present about 3kms from the open sea due to the continuing silting-up process. Excavations are being carried out at the site, but are currently restricted to the area towards the harbour and Agora below the baths.
Kaunos can be reached by rowing boats, located at the far end of Dalyan harbour. The rowing boats are owned by a small Turkish family and charge approx. 3.5ytl to row you across the Dalyan River. When reaching the other side of the river, the walk to the ancient ruins of Kaunos takes around 25 minutes, the path is straight and winds through the start of a small Turkish village where you can see the villagers sometimes selling refreshments such as homemade orange juice and handmade jewellery. Kaunos can be visited throughout the day although it is best to avoid the midday sun. It costs 8 TL to enter the site of the ruins. Cold drinks and refreshments can be purchased on site although it is highly recommended to take plenty of water with you.